Architect Herbert Fowler’s course designs at famous locations like The Berkshire, Saunton and Walton Heath are well known to many in the golf world but he was also involved in other lower profile projects, such as the course at West Surrey Golf Club.
Derek Markham’s West Surrey Golf Club Centenary book, entitled Playing Through, refers to a column in The Surrey Advertiser and County Times from 7th May 1910:
“The new links of the West Surrey Golf Club, which have been in course of construction for about two years on land which formed part of the Enton Estate, are to be formally opened on Thursday, June 9th.
The course, which is an 18-hole with three very fine short holes, is of an excellent length of about 6,300 yards, and occupies some 187 acres of freehold land, the property of the Golf Club Company.
It was originally laid out by the well-known champion J.H. Taylor, and the greens were designed by Mr. W. Herbert Fowler, Chairman of the Walton Heath Golf Club, who superintended the construction of the course and the formation of the club.”
Elsewhere in the book, the author states: “The role of J.H. Taylor in the creation of the West Surrey course has been somewhat overshadowed by the higher reputation for course design enjoyed by Fowler at the time. Whatever the individual contributions of Taylor and Fowler to the establishment of West Surrey on the golfing map, the Club could only benefit from such distinguished combined expertise.”
At the grand opening of the golf course, the young West Surrey professional Fred Robson and Charles Johns, the Ashford Manor professional, teamed up to play a couple of exhibition matches against none other than J.H. Taylor and James Braid, both of whom would eventually claim five Open Championship titles.
For the best part of a century, the layout remained largely intact (apart from during World War II when the clubhouse was requisitioned as a base for Canadian soldiers and four fairways were turned over to crop production) until 2002, when a fairway irrigation system was installed, all putting surfaces were converted to USGA-specification greens and a number of holes were lengthened.
Nowadays, the course extends to just less than 6,500 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 71. Both nines end with straightforward par fives, each of which offers a good chance of picking up a birdie. Architect Ken Moodie of Creative Golf Design was engaged in 2016 to renovate the course and he embarked on an ambitious project to selectively clear trees around the property and redesign many of the fairway and greenside bunkers.
Architect Ken Moodie was appointed to upgrade the West Surrey course in 2016 and he’s made an impressive start, completing the first phase of a 5-year programme with the renovation of bunkers on four of the holes. The club was keen to show off what had been done so far so I joined editor-in-chief Keith Baxter and a couple of committee members early one morning last week to have a look at the latest course improvements.
Bunkers on the opening and closing holes have been reconstructed but it’s the new sand hazards on the par three holes at the 2nd and 12th holes that really catch the eye. In particular, the greensite of the 161-yard 12th has been completely redesigned and the old half-moon bunker in front of the green has been replaced with ragged-edged hazards now positioned to allow a bail out area for the tee shot in front of the putting surface.
Two holes stood out for me (for completely different reasons) on the front nine: the par three 5th is a terrific short hole, played slightly uphill to a green that slants deceptively from left to right, and the short par four 8th, which rises steeply to a green that’s fronted by an enormous horseshoe-shaped bunker – this rather incongruous sand hazard reminded me of something Seth Raynor might have built on the east coast of America during the 1920s and hopefully it’s a feature that will be toned down if it’s remodelled.
On the back nine, the aforementioned newly revamped 12th and short par four 13th (with its split fairway and centre bunkers) were the best on the card but I can see why the 17th has been described as a “marmite hole” with its fairway falling from the tee then rising abruptly left as it narrows towards a green that’s set back on a ridge. The 18th then sets off for home from a wonderfully elevated tee position, with the par five plunging steeply downhill towards the lovely old clubhouse.
West Surrey suffers from its location in relation to ranking charts as its current position of #22 in a very strong golfing county would translate into a Top 10 placement in any of the adjoining counties. The course is well laid out within a large property that’s free of any residential interference, it’s maintained to a very high standard – the greens were easily the best that I played on during my 6-course visit to the area last week – and there’s an ambitious renovation programme firmly in place, which can only enhance the club’s already enviable reputation as one the leading lights in Surrey’s golfing landscape.
First visit in over 20 years and I genuinely didn’t remember the course being this good. Obviously Surrey has so many great courses, including 20% of the best in country (2014) and I think that West Surrey is in the next tier. Breaking into the Top 20 of this great county is not going to be easy but not impossible – the current presentation and conditioning of the course is very high and according to some members that I met, as good as they can remember.
This club is traditional with a capital ‘T’ and already have 100 years of history in their locker but is does now appear that the attitude is to move with the times (a little) and try to raise awareness of the club and attract some new visitors. As well as the presentation, I think there are some really decent holes…
The par-5 6th at 528 yards is my pick on the front nine; an inviting drive from an elevated tee leaves a lay-up to be thought about – a lone tree down the left-side pushes the second shot towards a bunker 50 yards short of the green, very clever design.
There is a great little half-way house after the 8th and then again after the 11th – it is not un-common to stop here twice, the members suggest the egg/bacon roll on first stop, then the toasted tea cake three holes later!
The par-4 14th is a strong hole, fairway bunkers, a dog-legging fairway to the right and a slippery green make this under 400 yard hole the SI-2. The 17th hole may split opinion; a par-4 played into a valley and then uphill to the left may not been seen as a fair hole right now but some tree removal on the second half of the fairway on the left, will allow the whole green to be seen; worth thinking about.
The 18th tee is worth spending a few minutes on; ahead of playing this SI-18 par-5, take in the views which are rather nice. It will be interesting to see the next version of the Surrey rankings and I think that the positions 20-25 are all up for grabs, with West Surrey towards the top of these.